Dr. Andrew Segovia Kulik, chair of psychiatry at the Cook County Health & Hospitals System, is the first to admit that maintaining good mental health is hard, even for those who know how to spot and treat a mental illness.
“We know that wellness means so much more than just a healthy body. It also means a healthy mind,” he said. “Much of mental health is related to how we physically treat our bodies, but there is still a significant portion of mental health that we cannot prevent just by lifestyle change. Instead, it may require medical intervention, and there should be no stigma.”
Mental illnesses are conditions that affect how a person thinks, feels, or behaves. Examples are: depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.
This May during Mental Health Month, Dr. Segovia Kulik encourages people to take an active role in their mental health by getting education on how to handle a mental health concern or diagnosis.
There are five key physical health measures that are known to affect mental health: nutrition, physical activity, gut-health, sleep, and stress.
Dr. Segovia Kulik notes that although we talk about these 5 measures when trying to prevent several chronic diseases, they also play very specific roles in brain health.
A healthy brain can be a key factor in promoting mental health.
• Nutrition: The brain needs adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids, B-group vitamins, and vitamin D. All of these nutrients help the brain to regulate its chemistry.
• Physical activity: Exercise prompts the body to release chemicals messengers that play important roles in brain function, Dr. Segovia Kulik said. Most notably, exercise releases endorphins, which increase pleasure throughout the body. Regular physical activity also has a positive effect on many mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, psychosis and schizophrenia.
• Gut health: When you feel anger, anxiety, sadness or joy, your stomach can communicate that to your brain and affect your mental health. Maintaining a healthy diet keeps your gut and brain healthy.
• Sleep: It is easy to see the link between being tired and being irritated. But frequently not getting enough sleep increases your risk of severe mental health symptoms like mania or psychosis, paranoia, or anxiety and depression, Dr. Segovia Kulik pointed out. You should aim for about 8 hours each night.
• Stress: Stress is a part of everyone’s life, but long-term or chronic stress can have negative effects on mental health. Learning healthy coping mechanisms, like taking a break from the source of stress or exercising, can help you deal with stress before it leads to a more serious illness.
Dr. Segovia Kulik noted, though, that mental health problems can surface, even for those people who seem to be doing all the right things.
“The important thing to know is that mental illness can be treated and sometimes cured, and anyone who wants or needs help with their mental health should talk to their doctor about options,” he said. “Mental illness is just like any other physical ailment — it can and should be treated, and we are here to help.”
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